Nobler Tradition of the Harvard Law Review

Bamberger and Wilkins During this period, these four black pioneers—Houston, Hastie, Coleman, and Wilkins—continued to leave their mark on the civil rights movement and on the American legal profession more generally. Tragically, Houston died in 1950, four years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. Hastie went on to serve for many years on the Third Circuit, becoming one of this nation’s most celebrated jurists. Wilkins initially pursued a career in government service, becoming the general counsel for the Agency for International Development. In 1964, he joined the faculty at the University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, becoming that school’s first black tenured professor and only the second black tenured faculty member in the entire University. He remained in that position until his untimely death in 1976. Finally, it is hard to think of a professional honor that William Coleman has not received in either the public or the private sector. During his distinguished career, Coleman has been Secretary of Transportation under President Ford, managing partner of the D.C. office of one of this nation’s leading law firms, an honorary degree recipient from Harvard University, and, bringing the story full circle, chairman of the board of the Legal Defense Fund.

Moreover, the special connection between Harvard Law School and the struggle for racial justice continued unabated even when there were no black editors at the Law Review to follow in the footsteps of these four pioneers. In 1959, Thurgood Marshall persuaded Derrick Bell to leave his position at the Justice Department and join the Legal Defense Fund. Ten years later, Bell became the first black professor at Harvard Law School. In 1961, Marshall left LDF for the federal bench, eventually becoming in 1967 the first black Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. During his 27 years on the bench, Marshall hired more law clerks from Harvard Law School—most of them members of the Harvard Law Review—than from any other single law school. In time five of these HLS graduates—Lewis Sargentich ’70 (1970 Term), William Fisher ’86 (1983 Term), Howell Jackson ’82 (1983 Term), Carol Steiker ’86 (1987 Term), and myself (1981 Term)—became tenured professors at Harvard Law School. When one adds the three former Marshall law clerks who had the "misfortune" of not attending Harvard Law School—Martha Minow (1980 Term), Randall Kennedy (1983 Term), and Scott Brewer (1990 Term)—there are now more Marshall clerks on this faculty than law clerks of any other single justice. (Former HLS faculty member and current D.C. Circuit Court Judge Douglas Ginsburg is also a former Marshall law clerk.)

In 1975, the long absence of black editors on the Harvard Law Review came to an end when Christopher F. Edley, Jr. ’78 was elected to membership. His father, Christopher F. Edley, Sr., was a 1953 graduate of the Law School and a protégé of both Hastie and Marshall. Befitting this legacy, after working in the Carter administration, the younger Edley returned to Harvard, where he became the Law School’s third black tenured professor in 1987 and, in 1996, the first director of the Harvard Racial and Ethnic Justice Research Program.

In 1978, the Law Review reached another milestone. In that year, Adebayo Ogunlesi ’79 and W. Randy Eaddy ’79 became editors, marking the first time there had ever been two blacks on the Review at the same time. The next year, 1979, a new record was set when I joined Ogunlesi and Eaddy. We called ourselves in jest the "dirty half of a half dozen" and we wondered whether there would ever again be three black editors on the Review staff. For the next few years, it seemed as though our pessimistic predictions might come true. No black editors joined the Review in 1980 or 1981.

Happily, this situation has changed dramatically. In 1982, Annette Gordon [Gordon-Reed] ’84 became the Review’s first black female editor. Since that time, there has been a steady stream of black editors, including two elected to the Review’s presidency: Barack Obama ’91, in 1990–1991, and David Panton ’97, in 1996–1997. Today, there are nine black women and men following in Houston’s footsteps. Perhaps most tellingly, when I asked these editors whether they knew how many blacks had served on the Review since Houston, no one could tell me. This is as it should be. It is a testament to how far we have come that every new black editor no longer needs to know his or her exact place in the history of this 75-year connection between the Harvard Law Review and the struggle for racial justice.

What should not be forgotten, however, is the connection itself. For this is a part of the legacy of this august institution about which every editor, regardless of race, gender, creed, or politics, should feel proud. When Law Review editors claim this tradition—when they become, in their own way, social engineers for justice—they not only honor the best of the Harvard Law Review’s heritage, they add their considerable talents to seeing to it that this nation lives up to the best of its traditions as well.

Professor David B. Wilkins

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